Two Columbus-area men are among 47 defendants charged in Minnesota in what federal prosecutors say was a “brutal plan” to steal $250 million in federal COVID relief funds by billing the federal government for fake free meals for needy children who did not exist.
Attorney General Merrick Garland called what happened to the nonprofit Feeding Our Future program “the largest pandemic fraud scheme charged to date.” Instead of providing free meals to underprivileged children in non-educational locations operated by nonprofit organizations or for-profit restaurants in Minneapolis-St. Paul and beyond, federal authorities allege the defendants took advantage of relaxed federal requirements designed to help children during the pandemic by falsifying paperwork to illegally obtain federal funds.
Prosecutors allege that the defendants used the federal money for their own benefit — including to purchase luxury vehicles, international travel, residential and commercial real estate in Minnesota, Ohio and Kentucky; beachfront real estate in Kenya and real estate on the Mediterranean coast in Turkey.
Abdirahman “Abcos” Ahmed, 54, owner of a home in Orange Township, Delaware County, is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering. The restaurateur owned the now-closed Safari Restaurant & Banquet Center in Minneapolis, a contemporary restaurant serving Somali and African cuisine that has been alleged in court documents to have received more than $16 million in federal funds after it reported that it had lost every served thousands of pandemic meals to children every day.
Ahmed moved to the Columbus area around 2018. During the 2020 pandemic, he and his wife opened the Afra Grill restaurant on Morse Road in the Northland area of the city. A second location has opened in Easton Town Center and a third is planned in New Albany. Court records show he bought his Delaware County home for over $290,000, bought a 2021 Lexus for over $42,000, and helped purchase a $2.4 million commercial building on Stelzer Road on the northeast side. from the city.
Mahad Ibrahim, 46, who also owns a home in Orange Township, is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering. Court documents and IRS records show that Ibrahim was the president of ThinkTechAct Foundation, a Minnesota-based nonprofit, and the owner of the for-profit Mind Foundry Learning Foundation, both of which operated from the same office in a cooperative workspace in the Southdale Mall. in Edina, Minnesota.
Mind Foundry and ThinkTechAct, whose IRS records indicate they lost their nonprofit status in 2020, hosted a total of about two dozen meal sites, data shows. Ibrahim is accused of illegally receiving more than $20 million in federal funds, much of which has been passed on to the owners of Empire Cuisine & Market in Shakopee, Minnesota.
Neither Ahmed nor Ibrahim could be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.
sen. Rob Portman: COVID-19 aid fraud “probably the largest fraud ever committed against the American people.”
Serving fake meals to fake children
Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of the Feeding Our Future program, was charged by federal prosecutors with overseeing the alleged massive fraud scheme.
Court records show that Feeding Our Future employees reportedly recruited individuals and entities to open more than 250 Federal Child Nutrition Program sites in Minnesota. Employees of the nonprofit organization allegedly took bribes and kickbacks to allow certain people and entities to join the program. Feeding Our Future is accused of fraudulently obtaining and disbursing more than $240 million in federal funds.
Prosecutors allege that the sites operated by the defendants fraudulently claimed to serve meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of their establishment.
The defendants are also charged with submitting false attendance records listing the names and ages of the children who receive meals at the sites every day, and fraudulent bills, prosecutors said. The grids were fabricated and made with fake names, including one that used names from a website called www.listofrandomnames.com.
Other defendants used an Excel formula to insert a random age between the ages of seven and seventeen into the age column of the false rosters submitted for compensation.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Two Columbus-area men charged with alleged plot to steal COVID funds